Updated: Mar 25, 2020
It’s 1947, World War II is over, it’s early Christmas morning and the snow is falling, and NEWMAN, an American ex-pat living in a post-war, post-Blitz London, still digging itself out from under the rubble, in Janet Roger’s ambitious, Chandler-leaning and much-acclaimed debut, Shamus Dust (2019).
Newman (no first name) has been in the U.K. for almost twenty years, and is currently working as a private eye, specializing in big money skullduggery in “The City,” London’s financial district. But lately, he hasn’t been sleeping well.
Then he gets a call from Drake, a city councilor, who wants him to perform what seems like a trivial task: deliver some keys to the local contables, who are cooling their heels, waiting to gain access to a property Drake owns in The City. Oh, and maybe minimize any negative publicity? It seems an “incident” has occurred. It turns out the incident is that a pimp has been murdered.
And thus begins a complex, Chinatown-like tale revolving around something far bigger (of course) than the mere murder of a pimp that nobody initially really gives a damn about. There’s the usual cesspool of venality, corruption and dirty secrets Newman feels compelled to wade through, and a scorecard full of suspects, including the attractive nurse who first called in the body and may know more than she lets on, a university professor who seems to be missing in action, a hooker who’s suddenly taken a powder, an abusive father, a possible Soviet spy and more — seems the pimp was moonlighting as a blackmailer, which really opens up the suspect pool. Also the body count.
Oh, occasionally Roger overdoes the hard-boiled poetry schtick (it is, of course, narrated in first person by Newman), but generally she keeps things tight and right, and moving along fairly briskly, and it all wraps up with a palpable sense of loss and regret that’s positively, well, Chandleresque. Although I hear echoes of Ross Macdonald and Chinatown quite distinctly.
And you know that can’t be bad.
Not too shabby for a first novel. A sequel, The Gumshoe’s Freestyle, set six months later, is already planned. I’ll be waiting.
“You never had a wife?” Newman: “I’d have remembered.”
“They might have been Picassos from his plumbing period, or a layout for steam pipes in an igloo; either way, they gave the room the all-round charm of an automated milking parlor.”
“A quarter mile ahead, the dome of Old Bailey pressed flat against the sky, and above its dome a gilded goddess weighed justice in her scales. It had been a night for goddesses. This one was catching the moonlight in gaps between scudding clouds, flashing off and on like a sign in Piccadilly.”
“Every so often a book comes along that is so beautifully written and so haunting that a reviewer has to dig deep to even begin to do it justice… Janet Roger doesn’t better Chandler, but she runs him pretty damn close with a taut and poetic style that never fails to shimmer on the page.”
— Fully Booked
“Elegant and spare but still cloaks itself in a terrific atmosphere. I liked the backstreet whores and the tipster barbers; the gold-leaf dining rooms and the tenement bedrooms. For me, it rang of Chandler – a grey-skied, British Big Sleep.”
— Atlantic Books
“Ms Roger’s American shamus in a sooty, postwar London of trench coats and shadows evokes the ghost of Marlowe abroad. ‘Shamus Dust’ is a noir homage that reminds us the blackouts may have ended but the city’s darkness lingered on; it’s an evocative, haunting debut.” — Christopher Fowler“
Roger can write like a dirty, noir dream that thrashes in the small hours. Roger gives her own hard-boiled masterclass, with plenty of the unexpected and enough action and drama to keep the blood pumping. A superb debut.”
-– Chris Nickson, Creme de la Crime
This article by Kevin Burton Smith was first published by The Thrilling Detective, 17 October 2019